POLITICS & POLICY
The bailout negotiations between international creditors – the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – and the Greek government are under the spotlight. On Wednesday, the trade unions of the country took the streets of Athens to protest against the recent agreement on the second review of the third bailout. On April 7, on the occasion of a meeting in Malta, the Greek government agreed on a new round of austerity measures involving a reduction in public spending amounting to 2% of its GDP by 2020.
On Thursday night, the national Parliament will discuss the policy measures. The Government aims to secure a majority of parliamentary votes before it will take part in a Eurogroup meeting, next Monday. During a Parliamentary discussion on Wednesday, Prime Minsiter Alexis Tsipras tried to shift the attention on the positive news, such as the increasing likelihood of debt relief for the country. According to Tsipras, both the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the IMF Director Christine Lagarde are ready to engage in serious talks about debt relief. The leader of the Syriza party said that an agreement could be reached by early June.
However, on Thursday, the ECB Executive Board member, Benoit Coeure, watered down the enthusiasm of the Greek government. In an interview for Reuters, Coeure said that the Governing Council of the ECB is not discussing an inclusion of the Hellenic state in the asset purchase program of the Central Bank yet. All the more important, Coeure called for European leaders and Ministers of finance “to become more specific” about the necessity of debt relief measures in relation to the sustainability of the Greek public debt.
In other news, the appointment of the new French cabinet makes the headlines in France. The new conservative Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, shared the list of Ministers with the French and international press on Wednesday afternoon. The government is composed of 11 men and 11 women and characterized by a variety of public figures, ranging from experienced politicians to leaders of the civil society. Those with a political background stem both from the centre-right and the centre-left parties. Jean-Yves Le Drian was appointed Minister of European and Foreign Affairs. Le Drian, a 70 year old socialist MP from Bretagne, served as Minister of Defence during the past five years.
Part of the French press focused its attention on the risk of a weak cohesion within the new executive. At the same time, many commentators wonder whether Philippe’s choice will provoke a split among party officials within the Republican and Socialist party. Pointing at the long lasting experience of the political leaders who are part of the government, the Spanish newspaper El Pais wrote that Macron is drawing on “veterans to kick-off his revolution”. Likewise, but on a more sceptical tone, the General Secretary of the Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, rounded on Macron tweeting that “we are in front of a changing government, but not in front of a government for change”.
On Wednesday, En Marche! also published the full list of candidates for the legislative elections of next June. The political movement led by Emmanuel Macron will go into the electoral race with 522 candidates, equally split between men and women and with a majority of public figures stemming from the civil society. En Marche! will not run for 55 seats where some leading MPs of the centre-right and the centre-left parties will stand as candidates of traditional parties.
Meanwhile, the electoral manifestos of British parties are under the spotlight in the UK, as the snap elections of June 2017 loom. On Wednesday, the Liberal-Democrats party (LibDem) revealed its program for the next elections. The defence of the EU membership of the UK and the legalisation of cannabis are two of the main priorities of the centrist party. The LibDem leader, Tim Farron claimed that his party will grant a referendum on the final Brexit deal to UK citizens. Likewise, he said that the LibDem party excludes to take part in any coalition government in the near future.
The LibDem party manifesto announcement came a few days after the Labour party revealed its electoral pledges. Jeremy Corbyn announced that the Labour party will run the electoral race on a radical leftist platform, de facto creating a big break with the past of the party. The editorial board of The Guardian argued that the Labour manifesto “widens the bound of the thinkable”, raising questions about the realism of Corbyn’s claims. The Institute for Fiscal Studies compared the two manifestos arguing that the LibDem pledges imply a higher level of income taxation and benefits than the Labour ones.
On Thursday, the Tories are expected to launch their own party manifesto. According to some early interviews and indiscretions, the Conservatives plan to reduce social benefits for the elderly as the latter will have to pay more for their own social care and lose universal benefits. In exchange, the Tories will promise to limit immigration, setting a ceiling for entries into the country. Consequently, a new policy should establish charges for business that employ foreign workers.
Meanwhile, new economic data showed that the UK is facing its lowest levels of unemployment in 43 years. Yet, the same numbers point at falling real wages for the British workforce. The controversial figures contribute to the many uncertainties of Brexit. John Philipott, director of JobsEconomist said that the “UK jobs market might look better on paper that in the pocket of workers, and highlights a shifting structure of employment in the British society”.
“We want to conclude a deal with the UK, not against the UK. In fact I would very much appreciate that on the UK side you could find the same spirit to reach a deal with the EU, not against the EU”.
Michel Barnier, Chief Brexit negotiator of the European Commission
Source: The Guardian, 18.05.2017
The voting intention in favour of the German Social Democratic party (SPD) at the national level, after the electoral defeat in the state region of Nord-Rhein Westfalen.
Source: Die Welt, 17.05.2017
Photo Credits CC European Parliament
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